If an ordinary picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, imagine what a picture could be worth on Instagram -- especially a picture that receives a lot of likes or click-throughs back to a website page to purchase your products and services.

While many small and medium-sized businesses have been marketing and selling through Facebook for many years now, there may be some still relatively new to Instagram, which the social media giant bought several years ago and which continues to grow as one of the most popular places to share photos, videos and combinations of the two. If you want to get customers’ attention, it’s always best to go to the places where they already spend time, and Instagram is increasingly one of them.

Of course, it’s possible for businesses to build awareness and attract customers organically on Instagram, just by setting up an account, creating quality content and liking and commenting on other people’s posts. As with any social media service, though, taking advantage of advertising opportunities offers a way to maximize marketing results in the shortest amount of time, and in ways that allow you to target specific kinds of people based on their age, gender or other key demographics.

If you’ve never advertised on Instagram before, it’s probably a good idea to take into account some of the nuances of the platform, the expectations of those who will see your ads and the kind of approach that will best lead to conversions, whether it’s simply to a landing page on your website or an actual sale. Remember that advertising positions a company directly within the “feed” or near-infinite list of vertically scrolling images when someone logs into Instagram. You don’t want your ad to be ignored, or to be perceived as something that somehow gets in the way of the experience they want to enjoy. Instead, a good Instagram ad becomes a valuable piece of content just like anything else they’ll see in their feed.

1. Don’t Just Showcase a Product -- Tell a Story Instead

A lot of what’s on Instagram consists of static pictures, but those doing the posting are often exercising considerable creativity in what they choose to share. For all the images of salads and sunsets, there are also plenty of pictures of people skydiving, wandering through a museum and even more novel adventures.

That’s why it’s a mistake for a company to look at Instagram as a platform to post the equivalent of a brochure. Try to create content that hints at the value your product brings to a customer’s life, or what else might be going on in their lives before, during and after they purchase it. Use people wherever possible, and in situations that are realistic and memorable. As with any other marketing channel, success in advertising on Instagram begins with outstanding creative.

2. Hone in on the Right Hashtags

If you’ve ever advertised or worked organically on other social media platforms like Twitter or even Facebook, you’ll already by used to hashtags, which are a way of associating your posts with similar content that touches on the same topics.

Hashtags are even more vital on Instagram in part because, apart from clicking on a “learn more” tab at the bottom of your picture, you can’t fill an ad with the number of links you might add in a blog post, for example. Think of all the relevant keywords that not only relate to your product and service categories, but the interests of your target audience. Instead of just #jeans if you’re selling apparel, for example, hashtags like #nightout or #datenight make make sense if your ad depicts someone wearing your jeans when they’re hitting the town.

3. Capitalize on Carousels

Although you might not realize it at first, a lot of what appears on an Instagram feed contains more than a single image. A while back the service introduced a feature that lets users create mini-albums of content -- say a selection of their vacation highlights, for instance -- that can be contained within a single post.

Advertisers could use this to further enrich their storytelling capabilities, whether it’s a “before” and “after” series of images or a step-by-step look at how their products and services work.

4. Add Variety with Video

Much like Facebook, advertising on Instagram gives marketers different kinds of options in the content they upload. While still images can drive great results, think about short video clips that provide an even deeper look into what your products and services do, the kind of community of customers you’re serving and other elements that speak to your brand purpose.

Some advertisers opt to use video specifically when they’re advertising within the “Stories” area of Instagram, which offers a slightly larger portion of the screen and can be woven in very subtly right after they’ve finished watching a story from one of the other people they’re following.

5. Make the Landing Page as Compelling as the Creative

Let’s assume you’ve done everything right, and a customer or prospect seeing your Instagram ad is ready to learn more. They click the call-to-action button. What happens next?

Some things might be obvious here, like taking them to a landing page that offers more specifics about the products and services referenced in the ad, rather than your homepage. Put some extra planning into the journey, though. Are you trying to drive e-commerce sales? In that case, taking them directly to the shopping cart or checkout area might be more helpful than simply offering a basic landing page with a product description. If you’re marketing a service, on the other hand, you may want to use your landing page to simply gather more information, or make it easy for them to connect with a member of your team to go through a consultation process.

Instagram may only be one digital marketing channel among many, but it’s an opportunity to make a big impact in one of the most visual mediums currently available. Pursue this kind of advertising opportunity with excellence, and the results could be priceless.


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